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Alia Muhammed Baker

Alia Muhammed Baker

The Cover from The Librarian of Basra

Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of Al Basrah Central Library; the Basra, Iraq public library; worked hard to make her library a community gathering place and resource. She was proud of her country's history and the priceless heritage provided by the books in her library. As a child she was impressed and horrified by the story of the burning of Baghdad's Nizamiyah library. When the invasion of Iraq started in early 2003, she worried about the safety of her library's collection. She asked the Iraqi officials for permission to move the books to a safer location and was denied. 

When government offices moved into the library and an anti-aircraft gun was placed on the roof, Mrs. Baker started smuggling as many books as her car would hold home every evening. When the British invaded Basra, the government employees left and the library furnishings were looted. Mrs. Baker convinced the owner of the restaurant next door to the library for help, and soon neighbors pitched in to help passing books over the wall to safe storage in the restaurant's dining room. The library was burned down before all the books could be saved, but due to Mrs. Baker's efforts, 30,000 books were saved. Once things calmed down in Basra, Mrs. Baker and her husband rented a truck and distributed the books among library employees, friends, and of course, their own home. The library was rebuilt and reopened in 2004 and Mrs. Baker was reinstated as chief librarian.

Source: Alia Muhammad Baker: Chief Librarian of Al Basrah (Iraq) Central Library, Cultural Heroine by Rachel Schaus, BellaOnline's Middle Eastern Culture editor: Bella Online